Volume 76, Number 32 | January 3 - 9, 2007

Ranard’s Picture Show for The Villager

James Brown lies onstage at the Apollo theater in a 24-carat gold casket, above. Inset, a spectator tries to photograph above the crowd as Brown’s hearse, drawn by white horses, stops in front of the Apollo.

Please don’t go: James Brown’s final Apollo show

By John Ranard

It takes more than practice to play the Apollo; you got to have soul. James Brown had a lot, enough to share and give a little to everyone who came to listen.

On Thurs., Dec. 28, when I heard on the radio that Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite himself, the man who started off working as a shoeshine boy and became the hardest working man in show business, was going to play the Apollo stage one last time, I got my booty in gear, hit the streets, and took the A train up to 125th St.

I knew I had arrived, when ascending toward the street from the subway, every boombox in Harlem was playing the Minister of Funk.

James Brown died on Christmas Day. Presidents come and go, dictators rise and fall, but there is only one Godfather of Soul. In his eulogy to James Brown, Reverend Al Sharpton said, “The whole world moves to a different beat because of James Brown. There are three B’s in music: Beethoven, Brahms and James Brown.”

James Brown was born in a one-room shack in Barnwell, South Carolina, and raised in Augusta, Georgia, in a whorehouse managed by his great-aunt Honey. He first gained national attention with his hit single, recorded in 1956, “Please, Please, Please (Don’t Go),” but it was his 1963 album “Live at the Apollo” that put him on the charts for 66 straight weeks and won him the hearts and minds of people everywhere.

Outside, the line of people stretched up to 130th St., around the block and back. Inside, onstage, the Godfather of Soul lay in a 24-carat gold casket wearing a blue suit and silver shoes. His Apollo albums played nonstop over and over again, while outside other J.B. songs blared from the boomboxes.

Hit me!
Get on the good foot…Uh ha…
Whoa!
Get on down…Uh ha…
Going down to the crib
and let it ALL hang out…
Ain’t nothing going on now,
but the rent,
A whole lot bills and my money spent!
Gotta dance on the good foot.

Hey!
Uh ha.
I feel kinda like,
kinda like,
kinda like
a sex machine!

Come on here mama!
Papa’s got a brand new bag.
He’s doing The Jerk…
He’s doing The Fly…
Don’t play him cheap
cause you know he ain’t shy…
He’s doing The Monkey,
The Mash Potatoes,
Jump back, Jack,
Hey!

We’re all people,
just like the birds and the bees
We’d rather die on our feet
than be livin’ on our knees.
Say it loud.
I’m black and I’m proud.
See you later,
alligator.
Hey!

Guests shimmied down the aisle, up the steps, and shuffled across the stage doing The James Brown — the fast-footed, sliding move that was his trademark. They reached the casket, bowed their heads, gave a salute of thanks to the master, and then shuffled out onto the street.

Eight hours later they were still dancing on their good foot.


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